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Dear youth pastor: It’s (still) not a competition
Adam Ramsey gives four practical encouragements for youth pastors who desire to strengthen relationships in their city to better spread Jesus’ fame.
Several years ago, I helped launch a youth movement in our city involving dozens of youth and young-adult ministries from all around our region. What followed were annual conferences, combined nights of worship, and citywide prayer gatherings where students were pleading with God to work powerfully through them in their schools, for his fame.
What was even more exciting than witnessing God’s work in our students was his work among their leaders.
Competition with one another was being replaced with genuine care. Suspicion of each other gradually turned into service to each other. Leaders who were unaware of each other’s existence developed deep, lasting friendships around the gospel of Jesus, friendships that continue to this day.
Jesus is the vine who bleeds life into his branches.
The prophetic declaration of Hosea “like people, like priest” proved true. The unity that was forming between youth pastors was having a trickle-down effect into our students, who had begun collaborating on mission in their schools, which resulted in many more meeting Jesus!
Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t easy. Building a strong relational network between youth pastors from different churches with different philosophies of ministry took a lot of prayer, grace, time, and coffee. It was difficult, but it was worth it.
The following are four practical encouragements for youth pastors who desire to strengthen relationships in their city to better spread Jesus’ fame:
1. Don’t see others as the standard to measure yourself against
The youth pastors in your city are fellow servants to be loved. To build a youth movement in your city, start by pursuing genuine friendships with your brothers and sisters who are serving in the trenches with you. True unity happens the moment you become more interested in them personally than in their numbers.
Being more interested in the number of people in a service than the servant of Christ sitting in front of you reeks of self-absorption and insecurity. Playing the Numbers Game is a fail for everyone whose arrogance or anxiety purchases him or her a ticket to this event.
Ask your fellow youth pastors how you can pray for them.
You all know the game I’m talking about, right? The Numbers Game is the art of subtly finding out how many people another ministry has, while inserting your own numbers into the conversation with ninja-like deftness when you have more than them.
Are numbers in ministry important? Of course. Every number represents a name, which represents a person who is created in the image of God.
But are numbers the basis of how we are to relate with other servants of Christ? No, never (1 Cor. 3:5–9).
Instead of comparing, ask your fellow pastors about the vision God has given them for their young people. What are their dreams? What is Jesus doing in their family? What are they wrestling with in the Scriptures? How can you pray for them? Share the struggles of ministry with one another and point each other to the great news of what Jesus has done!
When the basis of our relationships with other youth leaders moves from a focus on our performance to the performance of Jesus on our behalf, we are liberated from the snare of fruitless comparison into joyful, encouraging, grace-grounded friendships.
2. Pray for other youth pastors and their students
Pray for other youth leaders and the students they are leading. Pray for them privately and publicly with your team when you gather. The moment we start to pray for other ministries is the moment, we stop seeing them as enemies or competitors and instead see them as brothers and sisters in Christ on the same mission.
Put a reminder in your phone to take a few minutes each day and lift up others who are faithfully serving Jesus and students in your city.
3. Know that small encouragements make a big difference
There’s no “easy button” for youth pastors. Although the work is joyful and rewarding, it can be taxing and exhausting. Finding small ways to encourage other youth pastors can go a long way in propelling them forward.
The Apostle Paul clearly understood the importance of encouragement. His desire for others who were faithfully serving Jesus was, “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom. 1:12). Encouraging others is so important that Paul later goes on to link encouragement with endurance (Rom. 15:5).
Never underestimate the place of encouragement in the race of endurance!
Here are a few practical ideas for providing encouragement to other youth pastors:
- Shoot them an encouraging text.
- Invite them out for coffee.
- Celebrate them on Facebook or Twitter.
- Bless them with a gift card to a nice restaurant.
- Recommend a helpful book you’re reading.
- Tell them in person, face-to-face that you appreciate them and are thankful for them.
Youth leader, never underestimate the place of encouragement in the race of endurance!
4. Keep the main thing the main thing
At the end of the day, unity isn’t the goal—Jesus is.
If you pursue unity as an end in itself, the result will be shallow friendships, bad doctrine, and an impotent uniformity powerless to change anything. But when we seek unity in the eternal Christ—rather than ecumenical compromise—we can engage our distinctions without being distracted from our mission.
A.W. Tozer describes the stark contrast between being “united to one another” and being “united in Christ.” He writes in The Pursuit of God,
Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.
Jesus is the head who holds the body together and causes it to grow (Eph. 4:15–16). Jesus is the vine who bleeds life into his branches (John 15:4–5).
Jesus is the main thing that we can, should, and must unite in! His mission! His fame! His renown in our cities!
Only when our boast is in Jesus and not ourselves (2 Cor. 4:5), when our hope is in him and not our performance (2 Cor. 1:10), when our conversations orbit him and not our successes (Heb. 10:24), will we know the joy of true unity that is built upon his gospel.